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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  December 7, 2010 8:30am-9:00am EST

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>> good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with award-winning journalist and former acre of nbc nightly news, tom brokaw. his latest project is called "bridging the divide." it airs thursday night at 7:00 p.m. on the u.s.a. network. and filmmaker darren aronofsky is here. his latest project since "the wrestler" is called "black swan" starring natalie portman and is likely a best picture nominee for the oscars. join us with author tom brokaw and director, darren aronofsky, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help
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with his reading. >> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is our your side. >> and from contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> despite his alleged semi retirement back in 2004, tom brokaw seems as busy as ever in his role as special correspondent for nbc news. his latest project is a terrific
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look at discrimination in america roughly 50 years after the beginning of the civil rights movement. it airs on the u.s.a. network and so, now, a preview of "bridging the divide." >> coach luma mufleh heads up a rather unusual soccer team. the boys are refugees from conflict zones in 28 different countries. >> i have boys boys from afghann and bosnia and somalia and burma and cuba and nepal. did i say iraq? >> they survived against all odds to come here. each has lost a home, many have lost families. they were granted legal asylum, yet they found a country that was not always welcoming. but under the direction of coach luma, they became an inspirational model for overcoming prejudice in one of the most diverse communities in the united states. >> tom brokaw joins us from new york city. mr. brokaw, as always, an honor
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to have you on this program. >> tavis, it's always a pleasure to be with you. >> this special, as i mentioned, ties in neatly to the beginning of the civil rights movement 50 years ago and yet this documentary is really not about race. so tell me what it is about. >> well, i think it's about a lot of anxiety in this country and what i call the fault lines of america that have been exacerbated by the uncertainty about the direction of the country and certainly by the economic dislocation. we really profile four different kinds of discrimination, which you just saw. there are refugee children, most of them children of color, who have come here. they have been resettled by organizations like the international rescue committee, the state department and others. these are people we liberated from iraq, helped get out of sudan, out of cuba, out of ethiopia, out of thailand. we take enormous pride in that
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and when we bring them here, there are some americans who don't exactly roll out the welcome mat. these young people have been subjected to terrible racial slurs. for example, there was an attempt to not allow them to use the city parks to practice soccer. even after all of that, the youngsters will say, it is so much better here than it was back where they came from. then we have a story about somebody i'm sure you probably know about, now, wes moore, who is a young man who had kind of a difficult start in life that went to johns hopkins, rhodes scholar, white house fellow and in his same neighborhood there was another wes moore who didn't get on the right foot and is now in prison and he's written a remarkable book called "the other wes moore" and it's about expectations versus environment. we have a young woman who lost both of her legs but went on to be a successful model, a gay
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woman in seattle who could not visit her dying partner in the hospital because she wasn't a member of her family. and what we're attempting to do here is to get at the american character, because in each of these stories, there is so much courage, tavis, and so many people trying to do the right thing, but they're pushing against the tide these days. tavis: how is it possible -- as we established it's not just about race but you've rolled out the four storylines, it's not just about race and yet black folks have kicked in the doors that many have walked through and yet 50 years later, we are still dealing with these issues of discrimination while we have an african-american as president in the white house. how is it possible we have lagged so far behind? the nation has grown older but
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not grown up. how is that possible? >> we also have to give credit to the country for the gains it has made. i came of age when african-american people couldn't drink out of water fountains, sat at the back of the bus, were in segregated schools in the south. i lived in the north where the cities were just as segregated as they were in the south. i heard dr. king talk about his dream and we saw the passage first of the voting rights act and the civil rights act. you have your own program now. across america, the face of the mass media has changed profoundly. we have an african-american president of the united states, we have an afran-american c.e.o. of one of the fortune 500 companies. we have so many gains for women that are going on, too, but we've always set out to make a more perfect union and we're still some distance from that. i think a lot of this is quite honestly exacerbated now by the anxieties over the economic condition of the country and about where america fits in the world. we are a much more multicultural
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country than we were 25, 30 years ago. if you go to the pacific northwest, california, oregon, or the state of washington, for example,an enormously profoundly greater presence, for example, of the pacific islanders and the asian americans in every aspect of life so people are still adjusting to that in some fashion. what we're hoping to do with this broadcast, not just on the race basis, but on other issues, as well, is to get them to take a deep breath and step back and remember, this is an immigrant nation and we're always at our best when we're more than the sum of our parts. tavis: you've said two things here, tom. herein lies the rub for me. you spoke about the special being a mirror up to the character of our nation. it is, as you said, about the character of the country. now you make the point that it's about us making these
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adjustments. is it really about making adjustments or is it about our character? what do these issues of discrimination say about the character of the country? >> well, you know, that's a very complicated question. and character in america, you know, is something that you can't put in a tidy little package because there are so many of us coming from so many different backgrounds who have so many different aspirations. we have different values, in many cases, depending on our faith, where we live, what it is we want out of life. but the essence of the american character, i've always believed, is that you should love your country but always think that you can improve it and in the 70 years that i have been on this earth and in this country, i have seen enormous improvement but it is frustrating, to say the least, to know that there are still the kinds of discrimination that we see out there on a daily basis.
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some of it, i think, again, is exacerbated not just by the economic conditions, but also by the mass media, the internet, you know, people who wouldn't necessarily have a voice otherwise now have the vast universe of the network of the internet they can light up and create a constituency where it may not have existed before. and part of what we have to do, tavis smiley, is we have to talk about it. we have to be realistic about it, examine it, put it on the air as you do almost every night. now, it its great credit, u.s.a., the cable channel, a part of the nbc family, will put it out there. they've spent the last year on u.s.a. celebrating the american character and examining it and i think that's a big, important step in the right direction. tavis: i think now, tom, given your response of an american, i think an iconic american who was all at once an african-american, a woman, and later in her life,
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physically challenged, confined to a wheelchair. you know her well, barbara jordan, former member of congress out of texas. she once said that the american people all want the same thing, that we want to live in a nation as good as its promise, a nation as good as its promise. nobody's asking for more, nobody ought to settle for less. talk to me in terms of how this special will push us toward that place where we will one day become a nation that really is as good as its promise for all of us. >> well, i think we have to kind of join our arms together and work for that and be candid with one another and i think it's across the political spectrum, across the ethnic spectrum, across the race spectrum. everybody has to step up here and i think when you watch this broadcast that you'll see that there are some very candid observations that are made. for example, wes moore talking
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about the other wes moore, went to have a conversation with him in prison and he said, do you think we're the products of our environment and the other wes moore who was in prison said, no, i think we're the product of our expectations and sometimes expectations on the other side of the divide are too low, as well, and that has to be addressed. we have to remind everyone, wherever they live in this country, that there's a better way than just living in the streets or getting into trouble. so, yes, i think we're going through a difficult time and i don't want to take it, by the way, out of the context of more than any time in my lifetime people are questioning whether america is headed in the right direction overall. i went through a very difficult time in the 1960s, especially 1968. but now we're competing in a different global environment against india and china and we've got islamic rage.
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we've been at war for nine years. we've had the systemic unemployment going on. it went up the other day, not down. i think all that feeds anxieties and it makes people not be at their best always because they're just trying to worry about their own condition on a daily basis. >> let me offer this as the extra question. you mentioned earlier in the conversation. you mentioned you're three score and 10 years on this planet and in this country. i wonder, after all have you seen in your lifetime and all you saw putting together this special, whether it is you remain hopeful that americans will change their attitude about our future direction and i ask that against the backdrop of the report that finds that almost 50% of americans think our best days as a nation are behind us. if that's true, that many americans -- almost half of us -- think our best days are behind us, how do we move forward? >> it's only true if we allow
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them to be behind us. i have grandchildren now, and they're so bright and have so many friends across the spectrum of american life. i have other -- one of my daughters, grand daughters, is learning mandarin chinese, for example, because her mother believes she'll be living in a different kind of world. what we really have to do is, on a daily basis, is not be afraid to confront these issues honestly and not play to the least of us that play to the most of what we all have and to step up and you see that in communities where people are taking on these issues and finding a way to work their way through them. if you go across the country, as i often do on a pretty regular basis, you know, america is not what happens on cable television when the sun goes down or on the internet when the bloggers light it up. america is still out there in the mainstream or in the schools
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or in the faith community. and in the workplace. and the best demonstration i know of how we work together is in the american military, quite honestly. we'll get beyond "don't ask, don't tell" before too long, i think. in the meantime, when you spend time with the units, you see african-american kids with kids from rural wyoming, for example. an asian-american working on a battleship and sharing life stories and helping each other get through things so there are lots of places where it is working and we have to shine the light on them a little more. tavis: "bridging the divide" is featured on the u.s.a. network this week. >> the fact that you a come on t and talk about it as openly as we just have, i think that's one
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more demonstration of the progress we have made and that we must continue to make. tavis: tom brokaw of nbc news. up next, filmmaker darren aronofsky on his latest project, "black swan." [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> darren aronofsky is a talented director, writer and producer who's previous projects including "the wrestler," "requiem for a dream" and "pi." his latest movie, "black swan," opens friday. here now, scenes from "black swan." >> feel my touch, respond to it. >> i don't want to talk about that. >> you really need to relax. >> it's the role, isn't it? it's all this pressure. i knew it would be too much. i knew it. >> what she's doing here? >> you made me your ultimate. >> the only person standing in
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your way is you. >> i have my ways. >> nobody's after you. >> please believe me. >> what happened to my sweet girl? she's gone! >> there's buzz on this film but also a lot of buzz on natalie. >> absolutely. >> deserved? >> i think so, yeah. she worked really hard for this, spent a year training, 365 days, five hours a day becoming a ballerina, which is a tall order at 27, 28. >> performance, every director wants to pull the best out of his or her subjects. the talent they're working with. but it appears just by looking at your work that performance is really important to you. >> yeah. >> and for whatever reason, the people that work with you want
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to give it to you. >> yeah, yeah. >> i mean, natalie doing all this training. as a matter of fact, i think i got a clip here. mickey was on the show when "the wrestler" came out and i asked him a question. >> for about two years i've heard about this young director named darren aronofsky. i saw a couple of his films and i knew there was something about this cat that was really he reminded me of coppola, sort of a really innovative, smart kind of renegade that just beats to his own drum. >> that's nice. >> that was kind, huh? i was asking him what drew him to the script. i was thinking, though, that you are into performance and these performers want to give it to you. mickey and the wrestling moves to natalie here. >> i think actors want to act but i think they often, you know, do something and then the
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movie doesn't quite support them and they're left out there hanging to dry and they close up like a flower. so, you know, but all they really want to do is act so if you create trust and you're telling them, i'm going to give you a platform to do what you do and support you and if you go too far, i'll take care of it, then it happens. and they're game. it's not like it's really that hard to force them to do it. they just have to know it's safe to play. tavis: so the storyline of "black swan" is? >> that's a hard one. "black swan" is a movie set in the ballet world. it stars natalie portman as a young dancer who is given a chance to play the queen swan? the famous tchaikovsky ballet, "swan lake." in "swan lake," the ballet, one dancer plays the black swan and the white swan. and the white swan is innocent and the black swan is a seduct
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seductress and playing both roles splits her and horror ensues. >> did you take certain liberties here? things you tweaked? >> "swan lake" is a ballet but it is a fairytale with gothic horror and melodrama. we tried to take the energy and turn it into the characters of the film and that kind of inspired the entire film. tavis: why this project? of all the things that come over your desk, why did you want to do this one? >> "the wrestler" was very connected to "black swan" because they're both about performance and i like them as compnion pieces. they're about artists that put their bodies at risk to do what they do but one's about the highest art throughout and one the lowest art. kind of the magic and hope of
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cinema is that you can take an aging wrestlers at the end of his career and a young dancer at the beginning of her career, if the emotions are real, the audience will go with them on the trip. tavis: what is it that attracts you to this performance art as theater? >> my favorite part of the job is working with actors and they are performers and the only time i get to be michael jordan soaring through the air when he's in the zone is when i get to watch actors in the zone. i'm right there with them. and when they're channeling it, whatever the powers of the universe are coming through them, i get to be right there and connect with them and i've always been interested in that unconscious moment you get into when you're in the zone in film. tavis: do directors get in the zone? what is that, and what is that like? >> you get into the zone right there, when you're in performance between action and cut what it's going and you
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watch what's happening and all the crafts are working to create a moment, you can get into the moment and feel it. as a writer, i get it every once in a while when you're alone in a room typing away. but we don't get it that much. it's a shame. i do envy artists that get do it all the time and that's probably why i'm interested in films about performance. tavis: is that the the directing thing above and beyond what you expected? or was this part of the plan all along? >> it's such a hard job. i wake up every day and do the job, it's a real challenge. tavis: the writing or director? >> all of it. the directing, especially, because it's a huge time commitment. so you gotta love it to do it, even though you hate it sometimes when it's happening, you gotta believe in the stories
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you're telling and the characters you're telling stories about and try and get that emotion and humanity and to entertain. that's the bottom line. fun part is when it's done and you share it with people. tavis: ever thought you were in the zone, the project ended, you look back on it and said to yourself, i wasn't in the zone. >> i think when you're in it, you're in it. it's that state when time disappears in a second and you don't know what's going on and you're just connected and you're not yourself. so it is that and i think the reactions of the audiences are always going to be different. people have different times and places but that moment, it's clear that. michael jordan -- i have that photo on my wall of his soaring through with his tongue out and it was a incredibly huge negative and you can see every single person in the audience staring at him with a religious moment. it's just an amazing thing
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because they're watching him channel it, and i think that's what, in the arts and in sports and everything we do, anything, you're just trying to get to that moment where it becomes unconscious and all the training you've done and all that goes away and you become what you do. tavis: when you get to a point in your career where the stuff that you do gets the oscar buzz the minute it comes out the gate, does that put pressure on you? do you change your expectations of yourself? do you see where you're -- i'm going with this? >> yeah, i dompt the whole award circuit is important for these smaller films because we don't have the budgets to sell them on tv and buy all the ads and stuff so getting the critical response is really helpful and as an independent film, you need to have it. and it's fun. it's great when people like it. it's tough when they don't like it but you keep moving forward.
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tavis: take me back to brooklyn and tell me how, when, why, where you figured out this was your destiny? >> my story is, i went to -- it was 1986, i think i went to see one of the "rocky" films. it was sold out. there was a poster next to it with a goofy looking guy with a word "brooklyn" on his hat and i walked in and it was spike's "she's gotta have it" and i walked part of the way in and it was that montage where all the different guys are doing their pick-up lines, norah darling, and my jaw dropped. i was, like, what the -- i didn't know cinema existed like that. so after that, i found the foreign section in the video store and keira sowa and that's when the doors opened up. >> i didn't know spike lee was
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part of that answer. >> he is the brooklyn filmmaker of my generation. tavis: everybody is talking about "black swan," starring natalie portman. a lot of buzz on this thing already. darren, good to have you on. that's our show for tonight. catch me on the weekend on p.r.i., public radio international. access our radio podcast through our web site. good night, from l.a., thanks for watching and keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at >> i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with author and harvard professor norah feldman. >> all i know is his name is james and he needs extra help
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with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference. >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioned by the national captioning institute
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